I love the peer-to-peer success story of mapping Martian craters. Yochai Benkler and other commentators on the new digital economy reference the ‘Martian Clickworkers’ example as proof that that the Wisdom of Crowds can really work.
The story goes that NASA were using images of Mars to map the craters on the planet’s surface. Instead of fully trained PhDs spending months or even years doing this – the work was broken up into small components and put online. Then participants, using a very simple interface, spent five minutes here, ten minutes there, clicking to map the craters. After six months, 85,000 people were mapping martian craters at a faster rate than images were coming in. Their combined work was at a quality which was, quote, “practically indistinguishable from the markings of a fully-trained PhD” on average. (You can watch Benkler explain this and more in this great TED video on the new open-source economics.)
The question is how could this tendency, or even compulsion, of people to work together and help others online translate to business revenue, and even profit?
Intuit’s QuickBooks Live Community provides an example of how facilitating remote strangers to work together can support a business, and even save costs.
The Chief Executive of Intuit learnt that the forums for their popular TurboTax product were a hive of activity:
“Customers were not only asking technical questions, they were often outshining Intuit’s own tech support staff by answering 40% of the queries themselves.”
The social side of the TurboTax product has led to increased sales and falling tech support costs. Intuit’s outsourcing of tech support to participants over social web shows how the Martian Clickworkers model can translate into a core component of a successful product business model.